There are many different approaches to answer this question. I am not going to cover how to make decisions because at the end of the day, it is up to you, but I will talk about how good and bad decisions look like to guide you towards something that is right for you
- Characteristics of good decisions/choices: So what does a good decision/choice look like? Ideally, they include the following characteristics:
- It is based on some research. You do not take one person’s ideas or words to base your decision on, unless it is about your relationship with that person. I personally know someone who decided to become a teacher and applied to a university program without doing the research to understand the specific requirements of teacher’s college where she was supposed to go after she finishes university to get teacher’s certification. It was back in high school – while I was browsing different career sites and tests, talking to guidance counsellor, teachers, professors, attending job fairs and taking people to coffee, she was not doing any of that to explore her options. She just kept telling everyone who asked in her confident voice about her path (no idea where her knowledge of ‘requirements’ is coming from). Fast forward 5 years – I am employed in the same field where I studied, having done 2 internships while studying and receiving job offer before graduation, while my friend works in a minimum page job not related to her field, despite university degree.
- You have considered the costs vs. benefits, strengths and weaknesses, including the level of effort required to achieve the outcome. This does not apply to decisions about relationships – this is when you need to listen to your heart:)
- You asked yourself a number of questions to arrive at the decision. Make sure you have considered factors such as context, what drives you to make this decision, and perhaps, what really drives you (hidden factors), think about your assumptions, what you are hoping to achieve by making a decision, how your decision impacts others around you (e.g., your family, your significant other, etc.).
- It is aligned with your principles, values and the type of person you want to be. At the end of the day, after the decision is made, whether others like it or not – you are the one who has to live with your choices. As long as you sleep well at night (and do not hurt anyone), you get my blessing 🙂
- It is based on planning and reflection. If your decision is part of the bigger plan rather than one action, it may help you achieve your goal. For example, let’s assume you decided to move to another city (broader decision). If your next decision (only one) is to apply to only one job, you may be blocking yourself from meeting your goal of moving to another city. If you think about your potential action as a set of related activities – for example, looking for a new place, trying different companies, getting to know people from the new city, joining organizations located in a new place and so forth, you are more likely to succeed. There is no silver bullet in life so do not expect one action to bring you to a desired outcome. Reflection also helps because it allows you to learn about yourself, your emotions and values and if you need to make changes to the original approach.
- Characteristics of bad decisions/choices
- Physical or mental tiredness. If the decision was made when you are exhausted, stressed, tired or sad, it may not be the best decision.
- Ideally, the decision is not made too late at night. I notice that I am most confident and hopeful in the morning, and reach my most depressing mood by end of the day or if I am hungry. Make sure that these factors do not play a role, especially if the decision is long-term.
- It is based on fear. It may not even feel or look like it at first, but if you know, deep down, that you decided on something because you are afraid that something will happen or not happen, it sounds like a wrong decision. Fear is not the same as risk management. If you know of certain risk and may want to reduce it or its impact, your decision in the same situation may be very different than a decision based on fear. When you let the fear drive your decision-making, you become reactive to something that haven’t happened yet. When you let risk management drive your decision-making, you make proactive decisions to avoid something that may or may not happen. It may sound the same at first but it is not, at these reactions will look more different when the time passes.
- It is based on negative experiences you had in the past. It may not be the right approach unless you find yourself in exact same context. For example, let’s assume you have been in a good relationship when you were 25 and your significant other hurt you. Fast forward five years, you met another person, and now you feel like you find yourself in the same situation, for example you do not feel like you can trust again. Here is the thing: unless it is relationship with the same person as 5 years ago, it is not fair to the new person to ‘pay’ for mistakes and choices of somebody else. Even if both people are facing the same context, they can still make different choices based on their own personality, values and their experiences.
- You have not considered the context. No decision is made in a vacuum – there are your own dreams and goals, priorities, values, perhaps things you want to prove to others, maybe consideration of other people’s opinions or expectations, maybe financial or other concerns, hidden fears, and so forth. The more factors you identify, the better understanding of a situation you will have that hopefully will help you to arrive to a decision that is right for you.
- It is based on expectations that someone else has of you. Even if your parents think they want the best for you, their understanding of the decision and context will differ from your understanding. Do not make decisions that you think will make others happy unless you are also part of this equation. You will not be happy only because others are happy with your decision. You are the key person whose expectations and values need to be considered. There are so many stories how people pursue things they do not like, study or work in a field they do not care for or marry someone they do not love only to have a mid-life crisis, or worse, die in regret. Do not be one of those people! Choose your life they way you want it to be!
Happy decision making! I know you can do it!